Nov. 22nd, 2009

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Set in the siege of Leningrad during World War II, this is an absorbing book which follows the travails of Lev and Kolya, two guys who happen to end up in prison on the same night, as they try to work off their debt, as it were.

Anyway, what happens is this: Lev and Kolya are hauled before a colonel, expecting summary execution, but instead are tasked with procuring a dozen eggs, so that the colonel's daughter can have a cake for her wedding a week hence, as is proper. As set-ups go, this is a pretty good one - the population of Leningrad are starving, quite literally, and are eating sweets that are made from the spines of library books, because there's protein in the binding glue. Finding a single egg would be the stuff of legend, just cause for a banquet for the discoverer - to find twelve? But then again, it's challenge that's tantalisingly plausible, and besides, the alternative is death, against which all options probably look enticing.

Benioff is a Hollywood screenwriter, and I think this shows through in how the crucial scene plays out (even if, for argument's sake, the German general accepted the challenge, it's unlikely that all three of the Good Guys would've been present, when only one was required). The plot has a slight tightness to it (an almost-dormant aptitude that one of the characters is noted as having turns out to be utterly pivotal later on) which clearly lends itself to a screenplay, but perhaps there's not that much Hollywood interest in a film set in WW II, in Leningrad, telling a story from a Russian perspective...

Nonetheless, I thought it was a good story, well told.

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